It is startling to think that more than 16 million American children struggled with hunger in 2011. That's more hungry children than the total number of people that live in Ireland, Scotland and Wales combined.
That is a shockingly embarrassing figure to a nation that calls itself the breadbasket to the world, and a situation that should be unacceptable.
Childhood hunger has significant long-term ramifications that will impact America's competitive position in a global economy. When kids are hungry, they have a hard time concentrating. For some perspective, how difficult is it for you to work during those 30 minutes before lunch? Do you tend to start daydreaming about food, and not focusing on the task at hand? The answer is that you probably do.
Now imagine if you were a child going to school hungry every day. How hard would it be to focus on your school work? According to our nation's teachers, this is a serious problem as 3 out of 5 teachers say they have children in their classrooms that regularly come to school hungry. Those kids have a hard time concentrating, complain of hunger or headaches and, subsequently, their grades suffer.
If children are our future, how are we allowing this to happen? Yet tackling this troubling domestic issue is not on the political radar, even as President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney raise hundreds of millions to win the nation's highest office. Yes, we can all think of more satisfying uses for that haul of cash -- and feeding our nation's own children should be one.
The problem is not invisible and there are places where hunger is acknowledged, including schools. In many school districts, particularly in urban areas, programs are in place to deliver free or very low-cost breakfasts to kids so they can start their day with a full stomach. The recently concluded Chicago teachers strike highlights how seriously schools take this issue: More than 140 schools were open during the strike, in large part to ensure that kids would get a free breakfast and lunch.
But what happens in the summer? How do we ensure that our kids can be fed? That is why we support Share Our Strength's week-long Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, a program started by the Share Our Strength, which is working to bring food to where the hungry mouths are -- in struggling neighborhoods, parks and community centers. Share Our Strength connects kids to effective nutrition programs while also helping low-income families better manage food budgets so kids can eat healthy, home-cooked meals.
Share Our Strength just concluded its 5th Annual Dine Out For No Kid Hungry program with a record number of more than 8,200 participating restaurants for 2012. Over the course of the program, millions have been raised to make sure that food reaches hungry children in an effort to stop this troubling situation.
But so much more can be done to wipe out a problem that should not happen in America, a nation with the food resources, technology and know-how to keep hunger at bay within our borders. There's much more at stake for our nation's future than who will be our next president.
Suzanne Cohen is the Foodservice Director at SCA AfH Professional Hygiene, which is donating $1 to Share our Strength for each Tork Xpressnap Signature Tabletop dispenser shipped to customers. The program will run through the end of 2012.